Public comment open to restore roadless rule for Tongass

JUNEAU (AP) — The federal government said Nov. 18 that it’s beginning the process of repealing a Trump-era rule that permitted road building and logging in the Tongass National Forest, home to about 60,000 people and habitat for wolves, bears and salmon.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a proposed measure to repeal last year’s Forest Service rule will be published for public comment this week, beginning a 60-day process.

The previous rule exempted more than 9 million acres in the Tongass from a 2001 nationwide rule that banned road construction, reconstruction and timber harvesting in roadless areas, with some exceptions.

At 16.7 million acres, Tongass is the largest national forest in the country.

Conservationist and Native communities had opposed the exemption for the Tongass, arguing it threatened wildlife, old-growth rainforest and local economies that rely on tourism and fishing. They applauded the announcement.

“The Tongass is a priceless resource and a critical tool in the fight against climate change, and this action brings us one step closer to ensuring that our forest wildlands remain protected for good,” Sierra Club Alaska Chapter Director Andrea Feniger said in a statement.

Andy Moderow, of the Alaska Wilderness League agreed. “We commend President (Joe) Biden and (Agriculture) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack in taking steps to restore the faith and trust of Alaskans who recognize that industrial-scale, old-growth logging is a relic of the past in Southeast Alaska,” he said in a statement.

Alaska’s congressional delegation has supported the exemption to allow roads and logging in the Tongass. When the Biden administration first announced plans to repeal or replace the exemption in June, Sen. Dan Sullivan called the decision “misguided,” and Rep Don Young said it was “yet another nail in the coffin for economic opportunity” in Southeast Alaska.

Sullivan had said the roadless rule is a hindrance to activities such as mineral development, building energy projects and connecting communities.


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